In the age of Uber and one-hour deliveries, we’ve all become used to convenience. Convenience is great, but in the meantime, we’re also tending to get less of another important ‘C’: community. Josephine manages to strike a healthy balance between the two. The food startup helps people find and buy home-cooked meals locally while giving home cooks the unique opportunity to run a micro-business from right within their kitchens.
Josephine’s process for connecting home cooks with customers is simple. You can go online to see what’s being offered by the stable of amateur chefs who have been vetted by the Josephine team—they’re just people nearby cooking good stuff in their kitchens. The listings come with pictures of each meal and a price per serving, which starts at $7. Once you’ve picked what you want and paid for it online, you’re given access to the home cook’s address. The service currently requires customers to pick-up their meals themselves, but a delivery option is in the works.
All potential cooks undergo an interview and training process before being given access to the platform. Once past that, they’re required to get their hands on a CA Food Handler’s Card and complete a food safety course to ensure the meals are cooked in compliance with prevalent safety standards. Josephine gives its cooks a $1 million liability insurance in the off-chance that a meal results in illness. Cooks are given 90 percent of every sale they make; the remaining 10 goes to Josephine for the upkeep of operations.
Beyond the safety and quality control measures, the home chefs are given free reign; they have full creative control over what they make and how it’s priced. This results in cooks exercising their individuality and providing a variety of truly “home-made” options for those looking to experience the culinary creativity of their neighbors. The ‘Humans of Josephine’ page aggregates the stories of the people who have taken to the platform to run unconventional micro-businesses while giving back the community.
To further empower the cooks who make its operations possible, Josephine recently announced a more inclusive business model. 2017 onward, cooks will have a 20 percent stake in the company through stock options. The stocks will be distributed based on how long each cook has worked with Josephine and the number of meals they’ve sold. Josephine is also instituting a Cook Council—representatives from the roster of cooks—which will carry feedback between the company’s leadership and cooks.
As a sharing economy platform that sells food, Josephine has had its share of legal troubles. The service was forced to halt its East Bay operations following some of its cooks receiving cease-and-desist orders. Their attitude towards such legislation has been one of collaboration rather than confrontation. As detailed in this blog post, Josephine responded by joining hands with lawmakers to draft a bill to amend California’s Retail Food Code to accommodate “Home Food Microenterprises.” The bill will be presented at the CCDEH Annual Conference this year and possibly be considered in the 2017 legislative cycle.
Although the regulatory issues have been a significant hiccup, Josephine managed to raise $2.5 million in seed funding in June. The startup has raised a total of $3.1 million from two investment rounds since launching last year.
Prateek Jose is a writer and engineering undergrad from India with an unhealthy obsession for obscure historical trivia. Conversations about absurdist fiction and the technological singularity make his day. He’s already uploading parts of his brain to servers by writing for websites such as this one.